Writing Project 1: the Significance of Oral Stories

Writing Project 1: the Significance of Oral Stories

Writing Project #1: Researching A Community Issue

So far we have been reading In Defense of Food, a text that researches a community issue. Michael Pollen takes up what he calls “nutritionism” to argue for a different philosophy toward food. “Nutritionism” is a term that Pollen uses after doing research on public policy making and public and governmental campaigns to understand how they created our current health culture. Instead of writing about obesity, a common research topic, Pollen looks at what is behind obesity; he critiques the culture that created obesity and created a general sense of not knowing how to eat right. He draws on scientific, cultural, and policy research in order to create a context for his argument. At the same time, he demonstrates a relationship between his community (ie: the United States) and a particular issue he is interested in. It is clear from the introduction how Pollen became invested in this issue, his personal experiences related to this issue, and how he sees this issue affecting others in his community. He is making an argument; that is clear from the introduction, but it is also clear that he is trying to present multiple aspects of the issue, trying to think critically about all of the various reasons that we relate to food in the ways that we do. In other words, Pollen’s text could be used as one model of how and why a person does research on a community issue.

Getting Started

For this writing project you need to research a community issue, an issue that you can point to that you care about and that affects you and / or people you know. Your job, first of all, is to inquire: find out what the issues are. Talk to people. Read the newspaper or a magazine. What issues are people talking about? What are the problems in your communities? Some examples of communities that you might want to inquiry into would be your hometown, your neighborhood, the town you live in currently, the university, the Fraternity or Sorority or other club you are a part of, your church, your job, an online community, etc.

After settling on a community issue, you should do three things to help you brainstorm what you might write about:

  1. Describe what you know about that issue. What do people say about it? What “sides” are there on this issue (as a side note, often there are more than two “sides” to an issue and your job will be to describe the complexity of this issue)?
  2. Freewrite about how you relate to this issue. Why is this issue important to you or your community? What experiences have you had that affects you position on the issue?
  3. Research the issue. Start with questions: what do you want to know? What information do you need to find out? Try to draw on the four sources of information that are usually included in a researched essay to develop your articulation of the issue: memory or experience, observation, interviews, and reading (see page 443 in The Curious Writer for more information).


Remember you have resources to draw on to help you research and write this paper. Chapter 11 “Writing a Research Essay” (starting on page 429) in The Curious Writer is a good place to find information about the genre of the research essay, the process of writing it, some questions to consider as you are writing, etc. Additionally, you can check out Chapter 9 “Research Techniques” (starting on page 301) to help you consider what kind of research to do, how to evaluate the research you find, and how to search and look for academic sources. Finally, chapter 10 “Using and Citing Sources” can help you put together your works cited and help you to think about how to integrate your sources and cite sources in the text as well. Once you have done some brainstorming and some research, you should be ready to start writing the first draft.

Bottom Line Requirements

  1. You need to write about a local issue. Please do not write about an issue that is not specific to one or more of your local communities. You should make it clear in your writing project how you relate to this issue or why this issue is important to you.
  2. You will need to educate your readers on the various facets of the argument(s) surrounding this issue. It is important to provide some scope and consider various points of view.
  3. You will need to take your own stand on the issue.
  4. You should use outside sources and information in writing this paper (and cite those sources according to MLA style guidelines). You could use information from interviews, newspapers, web pages, books, and / or magazines. You will need to include 5 sources for this paper. Four of those sources have to be from acceptable academic sources (ie: .gov websites, articles or books found in the library or through the electronic databases in the library).

Researching and inquiring into community issues connects us to the purpose and power of writing as a public citizen and intellectual. Writing can be used to make change, but you have to know how to use it, where to find information, how to situate that information for an audience, and you have to focus on issues that you and others in your community care about. Researching and writing about a community issue can be a powerful way to help you and others to understand the issue, what is at stake, and to come to some potential solutions or revised understandings to that issue. Many, many books like In Defense of Food have been written on a variety of topics to help people to change their mind or to change their practices.

Specifications: 5-7 pages, 12 point font, double-spaced. A works cited needs to be included in MLA format and does not count as part of the page requirement.


1st draft due

2nd draft due

Midterm portfolio due

Writing Project #2: A Mini-Ethnography of Food

In part II of In Defense of Food, Michael Pollen focuses on the relationship between traditional ways of eating and our Western diet. He summarizes research on Aboriginals in Australia showing how they were able to become healthier by resuming their indigenous diet. He also summarizes the work of Dr. Weston Price who researched indigenous diets around the world to understand the relationship between diet and health and to compare those diets and health problems with the Western diet and health problems. For Pollen, it is useful to look at cultural eating habits to create a context for thinking about how food relates to health, to create comparisons between diets and cultures, but it also provides some additional scope to his research, to demonstrate how his theory of eating healthy comes from a variety of different sources and perspectives.

What is a Mini-Ethnography?

For this writing project, you will need to do a mini-ethnography of food. An ethnography is a method of research, a way of seeing, and a way of writing. Used in anthropology and literacy studies, ethnography focuses on gaining cultural knowledge and understanding. Relying on qualitative research methods such as observation, interviews, and collection of artifacts, ethnographic researchers look for significance in the everyday, look for patterns of behavior that are meaningful, and represent the group through the observations of a few. Generally, ethnographies take several years of observation to write. Additionally ethnographers generally go into a culture that is foreign to them in order to better understand it. As we don’t have the time in this class for you to observe another culture over several years, you will write a “mini-ethnography”, which means you will only have a couple of weeks to do your ethnography, so it is best to choose a culture that you know or are familiar with. If you want to choose a culture you know nothing about, that is fine, but be sure you have some resources you can tap into (such as friends, community members or family members) who can get you access to that community quickly. We will talk more about ethnographic research as you continue to write this paper, but in the meantime, know that Chapter 10 in The Curious Writer “Writing an Ethnographic Essay” will be a good resource for this project.

Some Examples of Culture and Food

Aside from the ethnographic part of the writing project, I am also asking you to focus specifically on food. This way you can draw on the knowledge you have gained from your reading of In Defense of Food to help you with this writing project; additionally this writing project can help you complicate your reading of In Defense of Food as well. Below are some examples of potential topics or places to look for your ethnography of food:

  • Known as Ayurveda, this East Indian philosophy of mind / body healing suggests that food can be used as medicine. Additionally some cultures have special diets or foods for people in particular health conditions; for example, in the Hmong culture, postpartum women can only eat a special chicken soup and rice for 30 days after birth.
  • Cultures that live near to the equator, where it is hotter, tend to eat more spicy foods (as eating hot foods actually cools a person down). This means that places like Mexico have a much wider variety of hot peppers grown in the region and used in their cooking than other cultures, for example.
  • Food is used to mark cultural rituals and holidays, for example, cake is eaten for birthdays, weddings and other special occasions in the US and other places. Marzipan and gluwein is a special Christmas holiday treat for Germans, traditional Italians eat seven different kinds of fish on Christmas Eve, and tamales are a traditional favorite holiday food for the Mexican culture.
  • In some religions, fasting is an important part of becoming closer to God. For example, Muslims practice Ramadan, which is a month of fasting from dawn until sunset. Other Christian cultures give up particular or favorite foods for Lent, or wine and bread are used during communion to represent the body and the blood of Christ.

These are just some examples of the relationship of food to culture. There are certainly more. With some brainstorming you should be able to come up with an idea that you are interested and invested in inquiring into.

Getting Started

To start on this writing project, brainstorm some questions you might have about food as it relates to culture. You might want to do some preliminary research on the web or by talking to people after you have an inquiry question to see if there is some more general information you can find about the issue. Then you should think about what you want to know about the issue: are you researching a tradition, a body of facts, the effect of this food on health or environment, etc. From there you will need to collect your research. We will talk more about how to collect research, conduct interviews, and to write up your ethnography in class.

There are three bottom line requirements for this writing project:

  1. You need to do at least two interviews or at least two observations (of about an hour each). Interviews need to be cited according to MLA format.
  2. You need to collect at least two artifacts (these can be recipes, photos, etc). Where appropriate, these also need to be cited.
  3. You need to include at least two scholarly sources, not including our course text In Defense of Food about the issue you are writing about. These sources need to be cited according to MLA format. In order to focus you research on culture, you might use these library databases: Anthropology Plus, Humanities and Social Science Index Retrospective, Sociological Abstracts, Food Science and Technology Abstracts.

Specifications: 5-7 pages, double-spaced, 12 point font with a Works Cited page that is not included in the page count.

First draft due

Second draft due
Writing Project #3: Choosing a Response to In Defense of Food

Our longer work for the semester In Defense of Food was chosen for multiple reasons, one of which was because it joins a conversation on a contemporary issue that can be found in our nation’s current conversations. It is common to hear stories about the dangers of obesity in the news, in the newspapers, and in health magazines and journals. In the last election, it has been said that issues surrounding health care and moving to a national health care system is at least one of the reasons Barak Obama got elected as president. You can’t turn on the television without seeing commercials about how to lose weight and can’t go to the bookstore without finding the latest book about dieting. Farmer’s Markets have been springing up everywhere and “organic” food is starting to become more common in the grocery store. City planners lament that urban sprawl takes up valuable farmland and local farmers talk about not being able to compete with corporate agriculture. Food and health and nutrition are everywhere, in the family, local, public, and policy conversations surrounding us. Thus, your job in this writing project, is to enter that conversation about food, dieting, nutrition, health, etc by choosing one of two options below:

Option 1: Arguing about Food

In this option, you will need to think about what to do with Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food. His book makes an argument for a way of thinking about food, managing food choices, filtering information about nutrition and dieting, and living a life in peace with food. Your job, if you chose this option, is to think about what you take from this book, what you disagree with in this book, and how you think our society should change – or not – how we relate to food. In other words, you will do two things in this project 1) you are responding to his argument; this means you are thinking about what you agree with, what you disagree with, and what is – and how you can – complicate his argument. And 2) you are responding to his argument for the purpose of trying to persuade others. Maybe you have a better way of thinking about food. Maybe you find that he doesn’t account for something really important that you think needs to be visible. Or maybe you apply his text to current issue such as national health care. Maybe you filter his text through what other writers about food say or maybe you compare his text with the advise that athletes or diabetics, for example, are given and consider how these special circumstances affect people’s food choices. The options are endless, but the idea is that you are using the argument of this text to make your own argument. “Chapter 7: Writing an Argument” in The Curious Writer can help you think about the purpose of writing such a text and help you think about genre decisions as you write.

Option 2: Critiquing the Text

For this option, you will critique In Defense of Food. Choosing this option means that you are looking at the text for how Michael Pollan’s argument functions for readers: how does he persuade us? How does he draw on rhetorical appeals such as ethos, logos, and pathos to make his argument? Does he use any logical fallacies? Who is he writing to and why is he writing? What is his agenda or worldview? What authority does he have to write this text and how does he create authority in the text? Choosing this option means that you will have to go back into the text and look at the ways the text functions. It also means that you will need to put the argument of his text into a larger conversation about what folks say about these issues to know how his text relates to what other texts argue. The purpose of writing such an essay is to think about how this text can have an impact on readers, why readers should or should not take it seriously, and to consider who might benefit from reading this book and who might not. Chapter 8 “Writing a Critical Essay” in The Curious Writer can help you in this regard, though you have to take that chapter with a grain of salt, as it focuses on critiquing a literary text rather than a nonfiction one. Instead of looking for plot, character and symbols, you can draw on the rhetorical reading discussions and handouts we have had in class and use that lens to help you critique the book.

Bottom Line Requirements:

  • You have to use Michael Pollan’s text in this writing project
  • You need to include at least two additional outside sources; three additional sources if you want to use this writing project for the final portfolio. Only one of the two required sources can be a nonacademic text, such as an article found in a newspaper or magazine.

Specifications: 5-7 pages, double spaced, 12 point font with a works cited page in MLA format that is not included in the minimum page count. Please note that Pollan’s text will need to be included in the works cited.